World Cinema retro-review: Blue Gate Crossing (Lan Se Da Men, Taiwan, 2002)

There is something about “Blue Gate Crossing” that makes it interesting as to be almost compelling.

I don’t know what it is, but it’s the same kind of feeling I had when I first watched “Blair Witch Project” (the original indie  one, not the crappy glossy Hollywood one). I know Blair Witch is a weird movie to compare to a teen coming-of-age, coming-out film, but “Blue Gate” shares the same simplicity, minimalism and realism that Blair Witch had.

Blue_Gate_Crossing_filmThis 2002 film, written and directed byYee Chin-yen (a UCLA grad who was heavily influenced by Taiwanese New Wave directors) tells the story of young Meng Kerou (Lunmei Kwai) who is in love with her female friend, Lin Yuezhen (Shu Hui Liang), who in turn is in love with the handsome high school swim jock, Zhang Shihao (Bo Lin Chen). The film opens with Lin Yuezhen daydreaming in PE class about Zhang Shihao as long-suffering bestfriend Meng Kerou, listens. Lin Yuezhen is in love to the point of obsession with Zhang Shihao, so obssessed, in fact, that she keeps a box of his (stolen) things – his basketball, a pair of his shoes, his notebooks, a pen (which Lin Yuezhen believes that if she writes his name until the ink runs out – he’ll learn to love her), and other paraphernalia that make me wonder if what she is doing is even legal – as if it were any other country, this would be rightfully defined as stalking. ^^ Anyway, she even goes so far as keep enlarged, photocopied photos of him which she makes into masks and makes Meng Kerou wear so that she can pretend that Zhang Shihao is with her, and she dances with this pretend Zhang Shihao. One day Meng Kerou accompanies her to the school swimming pool where Lin Yuezhen finds out Zhang Shihao is illegally practicing every night for the swim meet. Just for fun, on a dare, Lin Yuezhen asks Meng Kerou to talk to Zhang Shihao for her, as she is completely shy and gets tongue-tied around the boy. Meng Kerou, being devoted to her bestfriend, does so, and catches Zhang Shihao’s attention instead. Meng insists that it is her friend who wants to meet Zhang, and not her, but Zhang, for some inexplicable reason, even though Meng has rebuffed him many times, starts to follow her around and tell her , repeatedly, is name, his hobbies, how handsome he looks and drops by her mother’s restaurant and their house to see her,  in such a grating manner that I felt like crawling into the screen and beating the crap out of him. Like a typical cocky male teenager who is cocksure of himself when it comes to the ladies, he is so sure that Meng made Lin up just to meet him, and even though Meng confesses that she thinks she likes girls, Zhang still insists on pursuing her, and  believes, in typical stereotypical, political incorrect fashion, that she just hasn’t found the right man.

I had wanted to stop watching after that – but for some strange reason, there was something about this film I found compelling. As Zhang tries to win Meng, and as Meng struggles to come to terms with her sexuality and her feelings for her bestfriend, I found myself rooted to the screen, wondering what will happen next. This is an unusual, non-formulaic film – the boy does not end up with the girl he likes, but the girl does not end with the girl she likes as well, and their common object of affection ends up with no-one as well. It is neither comedy or tragedy – and in that it proves to be more mature than any of the teen films Hollywood churns out. What strikes me most about this film is how accurate its depiction of teen high school life is. Life as a teen and a high school student isn’t really a series of glamorous Beverly Hills 90210, The O.C. or Gossip Girl episodes where teenagers are all good-looking, smart and witty and always seem to be making out with someone or sleeping with someone, where class is virtually non-existent and the future is a distant dream and there is always something exciting beyond the next episode. What Blue Gate Crossing captures is the uncertainty of adolescence, that feeling of being on the verge of something, that endless monotony and adolescent ennui one feels as one goes through endless, repetitive classes,  that awkwardness, especially towards the same sex (if one were gay) or the opposite sex, that confusion and crises one feels but cannot name as one goes through this stage. It’s the kind of film that catapults me instantly to my own adolescence, of uniforms and PE classes and love letters surreptitiously passed to classmates in class, of harboring secret crushes on other girls and feeling confused about it.

And therein lies the charm of this film. Defiantly shunning mainstream film conventions by not giving it either a good or a bad ending, what this film offers us instead is a more in-depth, nuanced, minimalistic, character-driven look at what really goes on in teenagers’ lives. In the end, this film succeeds where others do not.

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